There have been lots of epic battles in the history of the world: the Spartans versus King Xerxes’ Persian army, Napoleon’s army versus the English at Waterloo, Heaven versus Hell, Duke versus Carolina…the list goes on and on. All great material for movies and books, to be sure.
One of the “epic battles” that is talked about frequently among Christians is the battle between fear and faith. There are a lot of Bible verses to quote and sermons to reference and songs to sing in regard to this battle, but rarely is one pointed to Genesis 32. Jacob has been living with his father-in-law, Laban, and is finally returning to his homeland—but he has some hesitations about his brother, Esau. Twenty years earlier, Jacob conned Esau out of his inheritance as the firstborn son, and ran off with the blessing of their father, Isaac. Twenty years is a long time for an offense to grow, and Jacob’s not looking forward to his brother’s reception.
In verse 11, Jacob reveals what’s going on in his heart: “Save me…I am afraid.” I can almost see the flashing red and blue lights of the faith police in the distance. Jacob has made himself perfect sermon material for what NOT to do! Yet what he says in verse 12 turns everything on its head: “But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’” He admitted fear, asked for protection, and then he clung to the promises of God and sent the faith police back home.
Jacob was afraid. That should be a relief to all of us Christians who have been trying to pretend like we’re not scared of anything because we’re “not supposed to be.” I’m not at all trying to advocate fear or make light of courage—we truly do have a God whose love for us is perfect and complete, whose protection is unfathomable and immovable, and whose power is more than capable of accomplishing far beyond anything we could ever imagine! But the truth is, there are times in our lives when we find ourselves worried, anxious, or afraid. What we have to know in those times is that our faith is not determined by the state of our emotions; our faith is determined by the course of our actions. I can have a huge amount of boldness in my heart, but never actually walk in faith. Or, like Jacob, I can be fearful…but faithful.
It’s not wrong or ignorant to feel fear. What’s wrong and ignorant is to allow fear to keep you from faith in God’s promises. The line of faith is always on the far side of fear, and we have to step over our worries to step into God’s promises. So next time your knees want to knock, don’t try to fake courage. Accept it. Admit it. And then cling to God’s promises and let your actions lead your faith.